Skip to content
Jonathan Bernstein

Why Biden Is Trailing Public Opinion on Marijuana Policy

Presidential involvement in any issue tends to polarize voters, putting policy goals, and elections, at risk.

Following the public.

Following the public.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

There’s an understandable tendency to think of presidential actions in terms of how they will affect upcoming elections. But it’s worth taking a step back to consider what President Joe Biden’s move on marijuana policy tells us about how democracy actually works.

There is no automatic mechanism for converting public opinion into public policy. And even when opinion is reflected in policy, change tends to occur incrementally. That’s certainly been the case for marijuana. Very marginal steps toward legalization took place state-by-state working up to national policy change — although Biden’s pardons of people convicted of possession still falls far short of where the public is on this issue. One survey finds a solid 69% of Americans in favor of legalization.